Last month, the current class of Repair the World Fellows held their final closing circles and said so long – but not goodbye! We’ve been incredibly inspired by their work as change makers during their fellowship year, and are excited to keep up with them in the months and years to come.

Here’s Annie Dunn who was one of Repair the World’s Food Justice Fellows in Pittsburgh. She took some time to share the impact she was able to have on others over the course of the year, and the impact the fellowship had on her. (Spoiler: She had such a meaningful year, she’s sticking around at Repair the World for another year to take on a leadership role!) Read on, then find out more about becoming a Repair the World Fellow.

What drew you to being a part of the Repair the World Fellowship?
I was in my final semester as an undergrad and still had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life, let alone what I was going to do after graduation. Corporate America sounded terrifying, moving back to my mom’s house in rural Michigan sounded equally terrifying, and my Grandma wouldn’t let me get away with waiting tables for the rest of my life. I had to make some decisions. Luckily, during my quarter-life crisis, my mother happened to be donating her time with a volunteer group in Detroit to beautify an old cemetery. That volunteer group turned out to be Repair the World: Detroit fellows. I decided to check out the organization’s website after she wouldn’t stop raving about what a meaningful experience she had. I was set on applying after just two minutes. I saw the fellowship as a platform to live out my values on a daily basis, and as the start towards a life of purpose. I was ready to stop wasting my time as a bystander in this corrupt and morally lazy world, and join forces with Repair the World as a positive deviant.

What sort of projects and organizations did you work on with during your Fellowship year?
I worked intimately with the ladies behind 412 Food Rescue, an amazing non-profit we share workspace with. 412 Food Rescue is a food recovery organization that aims to address the criminal problem that 40% of the food the United States produces goes to waste, while 1 in 6 Americans go hungry. The nonprofit fights hunger by rescuing perfectly viable food from restaurants, grocery stores, farms, retail stores, and wholesalers that is no longer sellable to the public. Perhaps the packaging was dented in shipping and handling, or maybe the 2,000 pounds of yellow peaches were accidentally labeled “white” peaches. For those types of reasons, the food would normally be destined for the dumpster. 412 Food Rescue redirects the food from going to waste and directly distributes it to organizations that serve those who are hungry. Through generous volunteers, supportive local businesses, and strong leadership, the organization has been able to bring fresh, nutritious foods to those living in food deserts around the city.

Who is one person you met during the year that you will never forget?
Ms. Cecelia Price-Knight will never be forgotten in my books. She and her family owned the hole-in-the-wall Jamaican restaurant a few storefronts down from our workshop prior to its closing this past year. Ms. Cecelia is one of the loveliest and most authentic people I have met in Pittsburgh to date, and it is extremely difficult not to love her. Not only can she cook a delicious meal, but she does it all with integrity. As a minority in the city, she recognizes the systems and narratives that exist to make her feel like an outsider in her own place of residence. But as a positive deviant herself, she never fails to carry herself as a citizen of the world. She once told me her main ingredient in all of her dishes was love. Cecelia and I shared many talks of how she plans to use her knowledge and energy to instigate more active civic participation in our neighborhood.

What will you take with you (in terms of ideas/inspiration/lessons) from the Fellowship?
There are two ideas that have stuck with me from the beginning of the Fellowship that will forever continue to influence the way I interact with the world. The first sounds so simple, but is so important: listen to the community in which you serve. I want to work to empower what skills and talents already exist in a community, rather than telling people what I think they need. When people feel empowered, they are more likely to address their own needs and advocate on their own behalf.

The second idea that I’m taking with me is the fact that optimal personal growth is best achieved when an individual is neither too comfortable nor too uncomfortable. To any readers that are totally bored at work and are feeling the pressures of a monotonous day job, I encourage you to do something that puts you outside of your comfort zone! Maybe it’s having transparent communication with your boss, or offering feedback to a coworker, or finally learning that new annoying mail system everyone in the office seems to have switched to. The point is to embrace adversity. Do not let your fears paralyze your growth. Do not turn from the challenge. Accept it. Maybe even fail once or twice, but don’t sweat it. It’s the failing to try that’s the problem.

What are your plans or hopes for life after the Fellowship?
I enjoyed my time so much as a first year fellow that I am returning to join Repair as their Pittsburgh Program Associate! I am looking forward to the opportunity of leading the next passionate cohort of fellows in the city and offering my experiences and knowledge with them as they navigate their new role.

What are your thoughts about doing service in an explicitly Jewish context?
For me, it is about rich history and wisdom and not about a religiously spiritual experience. This fellowship has helped me to understand that Judaism has values to teach about active citizenship and engaging in service.